Burning the candle at both ends
The above photo is a snap of myself, aged 25, with my father, who sadly passed away in June this year. We are in Paris. It was taken in 1987, a date etched in my family's memory because it was the year I was first sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
I'd been working for a temp agency, doing long hours, sometimes 12-hour shifts, including compulsory overtime at weekends. The money had been rolling in; my mates and I took full advantage of all the disposable income, disposing of it in Edinburgh's city centre pubs and clubs at every opportunity, not to mention the German beer tent that pitched up in Princes Street Gardens for the duration of 1987's Edinburgh Festival.
But behind the party-going facade there were lurking shadows. I couldn't shake off a constant sense of gloom. The late nights, the early rises, the conveyor belt of drunken highs and brutal hangovers provoked a deepening depression. My parents thought a holiday would do me good, hence the trip to Paris, one of the world's most favoured travel destinations. But I think you can see the tension in that portrait. If anything, I returned to Scotland after the long weekend even more confused and irrational.
Eventually I was signed-off work with 'stress', became agoraphobic, and refused to answer the phone. I became immersed in bizarre conspiracy theories about neighbours. At one point Conservative MP Norman Tebbit was being interviewed on TV and in my deranged state I thought he was talking directly to me, accusing me of being a 'shirker'.
Knock myself unconscious
In 2014 anyone can Google 'depression' or 'bipolar' and will be bombarded with information, advice and helpline numbers. 27 years ago my family had little idea about what I was going through, not least because I did my damnedest to hide it. But in November 1987 my stress levels imploded and my alarmed parents discovered me throwing myself at my bedroom wall in an attempt to knock myself unconscious (my delusional imagination had decided this would fix everything). My mother phoned 999, and an ambulance arrived, with a police escort, and I was whisked off to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, to be sectioned and consigned to a locked ward. It was Friday 13 November 1987. I spent a month recuperating, and was discharged in time for New Year.
Round about the anniversary, I always look back at what I went through, and what I put my family through. If my depression was a long, dark tunnel, it's always a comfort that I reached the light at the end of it (although many suffering similar crises are less fortunate). Mental ill health, like shattered bones, can be fixed. In fact, it can't be stressed enough that mental illness and physical illness are exactly the same. You wouldn't stigmatise someone with a tumour inside their brain, so why do it to someone with a chemical imbalance inside the same organ?